Latin words in English

Last changed: 13 July 2023

There are a few Latin words that regularly appear in our texts and sometimes give rise to questions.

For emeritus/emerita, the female -a ending is more widespread in English than in Swedish. In Swedish, the female form first appeared in the early 1990s. However, as adjectives are not declined according to gender in Swedish, the recommendation is to use professor emeritus regardless of gender.

The recommendation for English is the same as for Swedish. Use professor emeritus, unless you know the person you are referring to prefers emerita. Case endings in Latin have to do with grammatical gender, not biological – professor is a masculine noun and takes the masculine adjective emeritus, regardless of the gender of the person you are referring to.

As for word order, please note that professor emeritus is the only possibility in Swedish, while in English professor emeritus or emeritus professor are both acceptable. We recommend professor emeritus, as this is slightly more common.

Another contentious issue is the noun alumnus/alumna, with the plural forms alumni/alumnae. These days, the masculine form alumnus has become more or less neutral, and can be used regardless of gender. However, if writing/talking about a particular female graduate, use alumna. And for an all-female group of graduates, use alumnae. For the male singular, mixed groups or whenever you need a neutral form, use alumnus/alumni. Often, graduate works just as well. Avoid the more recent replacements alum/alums.

Finally, a word on plurals. In particular, the plural of syllabus. Although the plural syllabi is fairly frequent, it should be avoided. Instead, use syllabuses. Words with Latinate -um endings that are a part of the language take an -s plural. As always, there are a few exceptions, the most common probably being bacteria and media. And data, which can take either a singular or a plural verb – whichever you use, make sure you use it consistently throughout your text.

Published January 2019.